Monday, 29 August 2016

Little Men Review

Written by David Cuevas

In a year… No, in a Quinquennium full of huge blockbusters with over the top action and acting, it’s rare that, we, film goers, can find a simpler or even quieter film to enjoy. Even in independent films, they have gotten a bit more chaotic than usual. Just this year, we had the following films: Green Room, Swiss Army Man, The Lobster, The Neon Demon, Demolition, and Midnight Special. Of course we had some quiet films, such as Borealis (it’s an unpopular Canadian drama, okay!), The Meddler, and that god awful film that I despise, The Man who knew Infinity…. UGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH! So to get to the point, Little Men joins the rankings of the quaint and quiet unpopular films collection. The best thing that I can say about Little Men, is that it was simple, but effective. Character motivations, plot, and morals were very well structured which makes the film more believable. I came into this film blindly. All I knew about the film was that it was about a boy, and someone who died in his family. To be honest, this is all you need to know. I thought going into the film almost blindly, helped me enjoy the structured part of the film. 

Another thing that I heavily praise about the film, is that it felt more like a better version of Boyhood. Even though Boyhood has a massive run time of 165 minutes (2 hours and 35 minutes), it never fully delved into relationships between friends, neighbors, and even community. Admittedly, in a few scenes they do show this message, but not as many then you think. Little Men has a short run time of 85 minutes (1 hour and 25 minutes), and demonstrates these themes with great determination. It doesn’t shy away from the other people surrounding the plot. Even though some sub-plots that happen during the film, are a tad bit slow, but in the long term, it helps advance the plot and characters of the feature. 
Speaking in a matter of characters, all the actors who play there roles, deserve a plaque for most overlooked acting ensemble of 2016… So far of course. All the actors deserve more recognition desirably, and this definitely includes Michael Barbieri and Greg Kinnear, who were the stand outs. Barbieri plays a kind a Boston/jersey kid who matches his tone and accent with near perfection. Every time he says something, it’s almost like you can “feel” his character. This makes him more likable as a character in the film, and is over all effective. Kudos to you Barbieri! As for Kinnear, in previous films, I felt like he didn’t show all he's got. I’m talking about Little Miss Sunshine and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise. He was just meh in those films. But in this film, the tables turned, and he truly plays a believable, motivated, and complex character in the film. As for everybody else, there were all solid. I do have some minor nitpicks for Theo Taplitz performance as our main protagonist, Jake. His acting at times felt very robotic, even to the point of Kristen Stewart in Twilight kind of level.
As for the negative, I did felt the music was a bit overused. I’m not saying the songs were bad or anything, heck, I would get the soundtrack on a CD (or if it’s not available in Canada, I’ll just get it on ITunes. The problem is that I heard the main theme song four times during the run time of the film. It’s not like in a Spielberg film where they play the popular verse and continue it with something new. No, it’s the same exact freakin song. Understandably, the film did have a low budget, but there was no reason to edit around the soundtrack. Heck, the film doesn’t have much music in the first place, so why didn’t they just cut off one song! Also about the editing, too much fade outs. I hate it when that happens! THERE’S SOMETHING CALLED CROSSFADES FOR A REASON! You know what, forget it. It’s excusable. In the end, Little Men is an effective piece of media, with compelling characters and a solid plot. Definitely in the Top 10 Character Pieces of the year.

Rating: 8.1/10

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Sunday, 28 August 2016

Cafe Society Review

Written by David Cuevas

Woody Allen, is not what you would call a very “versatile” director, like Kubrick and Spielberg. Of course, he does have some films, that would go under this category, such as Blue Jasmine and Crimes and Misdemeanors, but most of his films follow a certain pattern. And to be honest, that’s okay. If you have a formula that works with your plots, then go with it. As long as you try something new, visually and aesthetically with a couple different characters sprinkled in. Allen does this greatly, creating films that you may have seen before, but still would resonate you because of that little sprinkle of magic, that makes the Woody Allen film that you’re watching, a bit different from the rest of his films. He does his formula pretty well, and this defiantly counts in his new film, Café Society. It has what you need in a traditional Woody Allen film. Sharp dialogue, a romantic interest, a setting that has a great production design (preferably to be taken place in the past), and a Jew (or in this case, a Jewish family!) Society has it all. And in the end, I came out of the film, smiling with delight. Even though the film is flawed, there’s a lot to dive into about this fun feature film. 
First, the aesthetic! Similar to Midnight in Paris, it has the traditional black and white titles at the start which indicates who stars in the film in alphabetical order and much more. The two settings, Hollywood and New York, felt very natural in its design. The design also contributes with the costumes as well. Similar to Hail Caesar!, but a bit better in execution, Café Society has great clothing that matches the characters persona’s and identity’s. Also in the environment discussion, I felt the film was surprisingly more violent than it was going to be. Legit, there was some serious blood shit that happened in this movie. What surprised me the most, is that the Canadian rating didn’t even mention violence! Just language and Tabaco use! Yeah, I saw the trailer, and I did see bobby being roughed up, but this was one BIG surprise. A wonderful surprise in-fact. I thought the action, like the production design of the film, matched with the time period it was indicating. Also, just a random fact to put out there, Café Society is the first Woody Allen film to be filmed with Digital Camera’s. I’m sorry, for the random fact, just felt it was right… Anyway, other than the style or “environment” of the film, what’s also good? 
The performances, especially Steve Carell who plays a mildly dysfunctional Hollywood studio executive. He matches his performance with care, which makes some of the twists and turns, more shocking. This also goes for Corey Stoll, who plays Ben, the brother of our main protagonist, Bobby, who is basically your out of control, family loving, gangster.  Other stand outs, were Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Jeannie Berlin, and Anna Camp. The only performance that I felt was kind of weak was Blake Lively. She was okay…. Kind of like Ana de Armas in War Dogs, but she just plays her lines just fine! Good enough for the final cut of the film, but not enough to get a best supporting actress award, or even a nomination. Heck, maybe not even a recognition for her work on the film. 

And now the negative. I felt the later second act, to the end of the film, felt quite unnecessary. It was basically a bunch of subplots that were entertaining at first, but later graded on me. Lots could have been cut out, and the film would have had the same morals and “identity.” Another complaint, which takes place in the third act, is that I felt, Bobby, our main protagonist, felt unnecessarily manipulative. Yeah, I know, something did happen earlier on in the plot, but that tone in his personality and confidence just felt out of place. Other than that, Café Society is a hell of a good time. With a great aesthetic, some stand out performances, and great music, Café Society will remain as one of the more memorable films of 2016.

Score: 7.8/10
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War Dogs Review

Written by David Cuevas

When it comes to marketing, in big blockbusters, most of the time, it’s either spoiler filed or flat out misleading in tone and quality. Such examples can be Suicide Squad, The Bourne Legacy, and now, War Dogs. Not to be mistaken, I thought War Dogs was a great film. It’s one of those rare examples of marketing that misleads the audience, but helps with the emotional impact in the end. The thing is, War Dogs is not a huge drug filled, swear filled, and fun filled film then you would believe from its marketing. War Dogs has the editing and tone of The Big Short, mixed in with some elements of Scorsese and De Palma. 

Some of these elements can be seen through character motivations and actions such as Jonah Hill’s character, Efraim, who is basically a sneaky lunatic bastard. And based on the story, is the villain of the plot, seen by Miles Teller’s character, David. Jonah Hill plays the character of Efraim with perfection, and always makes me smiles, when his character (or persona) gives out a hilarious laugh that is quite indescribable. Just imagine, a dying llama, mixed with Mark Hamill’s joker laugh. As for Miles, he’s decent. He has a solid performance with some memorable moments, and at the end of the day, you care about him. Just not in an impactful way. And this leads up to my complaints. 
At times, the film is predictable and cliché, unlike The Big Short, which actually attempted to shy away from those elements. To be specific, I’m talking about the last 30 minutes of the film, and all the scenes involving David’s wife (played by Ana de Armas.) Those scenes are just so plain, compared to the rest of the film. Their just ordinary scenes that you would most likely see in a boring biopic, or by the numbers drama. And this doesn’t help for Ana de Armas, whose performance wasn’t strong in the first place. Yeah, she’s convincibly pretty, but with her heavy accent and delivery of lines, it just felt so out of place. As for the rest of the film, War Dogs is an entertaining intelligent blockbuster, with some well-directed cinematography and action, appropriate music choices, good performances, and a stellar script. I do hope other huge studios would follow this film as an example. To keep it simple, the film is like the main two characters. Legendary. 

Rating: 8.2/10
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Saturday, 20 August 2016

The Final Master Review

Written by David Cuevas

The Final Master is a 2016 action drama, directed by Xu Haofeng, the writer of the acclaimed 2013 film The Grandmaster. Before going into this flick, I almost saw no promotional material. I only read the synopsis of the film and saw the poster of the film a couple weeks before, at my local cinema, and thought, “That is one dope ass poster. I NEED IT!” So already, with a cool concept of a master creating a martial arts school before World War II, and an awesome poster, I had a bit of expectations going into the film, but not much. But after seeing the film, I can say that The Final Master, needs to go back to film school and work on its execution, pacing, story, and character arks. The Final Master is a muddled, un-motivated, mess with a pace of a small ADHD Child drinking tons of Fruitopia while watching an Asian action flick.
 Sometimes, during the 109 minute run time, you don’t even know what’s happening. Things go by so fast, you barely have a second to compensate what you just saw, because it goes on to the next scene. The reason why a film like Mad Max Fury Road works so well is because it has a simple plot that relies on minimal subplots. Because the story is so simple, you can follow and understand while the madness is happening on screen. But for The Final Master’s sake, you don’t even get to understand the characters interests and motivations until it gets mentioned in another scene. And even then you lose track. There’s too many things going on, and it would help if some characters and scenes that weren’t very interesting or helpful to the film, can be left forever on the cutting room floor. You might have heard the overused phrase “Quality over quantity” And I can clearly state that Xu Haofeng ignored this phrase completely while directing and writing this film. 
In Xu Haofeng's Excellent 'The Final Master,' the Talking Is as Good as the Fighting
For the acting, I thought the main protagonist, Chen, was kind of like a discount Lupin the Third. To be honest, I’ve only seen one Lupin film (the Hayao Myasaki film), but only from that film, I can see what they were trying to mimic. And Jesus, did it flop. His character has the personality of an action figure. You know, those figures that have their identity and minimal personality traits on the back of the card board box. So what is he? Cunning? Yes. Clever? Yes. Only focuses on one clear motivation, until he clears his mind conveniently in the third act? Yes. Relies on anime cliché’s? Yep. And that’s pretty much it, except that he is really skilled in martial arts. For the love interest in the film, she basically has the same motivation as Chen. Actually, almost every character in the film has a similar motivation like Chen. Except for one, Master Zou. She kind of reminded me of the character Princess Kushana, from Naussica of the Valley of the wind. The Difference between Zou and Kushana is that Kushana actually has an interesting motivation and plot that surrounds her, while Master Zou, as stated before, the pacing goes so fast you don’t even get to understand the character. The only time that I felt Zou’s motivation, is during the climax, in a grandiose alley sequence and even then, it was quite underwhelming. 

As for the positive, the action is terrific. It’s well choreographed martial arts fun. At times, I was shocked at how the actors pulled off their own stunts. No wonder it won the Golden Horse Film Festival - Best Action Choreography award! Also accompanying the action, is the cinematography. Some of the filters used in the film felt more like a modern atmosphere instead of using its filters to depict a pre-World War II setting. This also goes with the production design and the costume design in the film. The Final Master is an off paced, clunky Asian action film with not much to offer. The only complement is that it kicked its way for some bad-ass action! 

Score: 4.6/10